I ponder death every time I fly.
I try not to dwell on it. Sometimes, I do. Like when the gate agent says, “Have a safe flight.” What, she couldn’t say, “Have a nice flight.” She has to use the word, “safe”? Fine.
My low-grade fear, however, does not keep me from flying. I love to travel too much. Thus, I fly whenever time off, last-minute deals, and wanderlust converge to create the perfect weekend-trip trifecta. I just don’t take it for granted that everything will be okay en route.
Mostly, it has been okay when I travel. Actually, when I think about it, it has all been perfect. I’ve flown around the world, and I’m still here.
But today’s flight, I won’t lie, was interesting.
Back story: Restaurant Gal Daughter is doing much better. Thus, Ohio won the toss, and I landed there for a quick weekend visit with Restaurant Gal Son.
As always when I visit my kids, I wanted to stay a day longer. I even conjured up bogus stories about plane delays to tell my manager. “Do you think they’d check?” asked Restaurant Gal Son.
“No, but I can’t do it. I can’t lie, and I can’t blow off tomorrow. I am training two people before I move on to another location,” I told him.
(Oh yeah, I am in transition, but for the same Big Boss. More on that later.)
And so I slept fitfully, waking up every half hour so I wouldn’t sleep through the alarm I set for 3 a.m. By 2:50 a.m., I gave up and got up. I showered, packed, checked out of the hotel, and tossed my stuff in my very chilly rental car by 4 a.m.
It was snowing. It was 12 degrees.
I could say I hate Ohio in winter, which I do. But what I really hate is winter. Anywhere.
It took forever to get to the airport. And I had to fill the car up with gas before I returned it. Ever filled up a car on an Interstate 70 at 4:45 a.m.? Trust me, you keep your head down and wonder why you’re so worried about a dumb upcoming flight. CRAZY people are filling up all kinds of vehicles at 4:45 a.m. in Ohio!
But I survived the fill-up and made it to the airport, even if it was with no time to spare.
I hustled through check in, as much as one can hustle through a line that snakes back and forth quadruple times because only two TSA inspectors are up and at work at that hour. I had my boots, belt, coat, and heavy silver necklace off (yes, I love to undress in public at the airport) and piled in the gray plastic bin a full two minutes before the two business people in front of me had wrangled their laptops out of their carry-ons.
Mine was a a doll-sized jet masquerading as a member of the fleet of a major airline. So cute, unless you are flying in this Barbie-perfect plane on a pitch black, snowy Monday morning from a city you’ll never explore because said city lays claim to this so-called “discount” airport–and that’s about it.
And I was okay with my single-row seat because I am not a big person. But woe to the average plus-size American who boards. Woe to them and their luggage and…hey, I wondered, are we too heavy to take off, now that everyone is aboard?
Which was when I began my pondering-death ritual for this homeward-bound flight.
The de-icing trucks converged and covered us in their magic potion, and then ended the chore so soon, that I wondered if we were now waiting too long to take off and allowing the de-icing chemicals to wear off, which would allow the now-sticking snowflakes to really stick and render our wings as useful as lead blocks.
Pondering death is energy sapping, at best.
We taxied behind two “real” jets that dwarfed our bite-sized plane, our engines whining like tiny children trying to mimic the big guys. And still the snow fell.
Then it was our turn. My stomach churned, more than usual. I felt nervous, more than usual. I said three “Our Fathers” in a row, really fast, which was not usual at all.
Something didn’t feel right.
And as we began the roll to take off, going faster and faster, and a clanging noise banged from the engine on my side of the plane, I had this thought, which I was sure was my last: “We’re on angels’ wings, now.”
I swear I had that thought.
And halfway down the runway, at full speed and mere seconds before the front tires lifted off the tarmac, we suddenly felt the reverse thrust of the engines, and lurched forward to a stop.
In the middle of the Goddamned runway, in the dark, in the snow.
No one said a word.
Then everyone leaned toward the middle of the aisle and looked at the lone flight attendant strapped in her seat at the front of the plane. And she looked side-to-side, clueless.
“That didn’t feel right,” said a man across the aisle from me.
“No, no it didn’t,” I agreed.
“Ladies and gentleman,” came the pilot’s voice over the intercom after a few seconds which seemed like hours. “We had an engine malfunction light come on and we will be returning to the gate for mechanics to take a look at it. My apologies.”
He then revved it and raced that puppy back to the gate faster than I imagined a plane could go while twisting and turning down short stretches of pavement marked J2 and H1.
That was comforting.
Our bags were unloaded. We were told to make arrangements at the gate for alternative flights. Who knew how long this one would be under a mechanic’s care?
Mr. Restaurant Gal just happened to call the minute I stepped back into the terminal. “Have you taken off, yet?” he asked.
Which was when I started to shake and feel kind of sick. I was really scared, and it had taken ten minutes to feel it.
I’d like to say I found another flight on another airline and happily quaffed a Bloody Mary en route home, a tale to tell. I’d like to say I had the nerve to stand up to the ticketing agent, when she said, “You don’t have a connection to make. You’ll stay on this flight. We’ll take off as soon as the engine is repaired.”
But I didn’t. I meekly got on the same broken plane two hours later, was greeted by the same perky flight attendant who told us all once again to use our seat cushions as flotation devices “in the case of a water landing.”
The pilot spoke over the intercom to tell us they had “deactivated” the engine’s broken component “because it’s not a requirement to have it active,” and all was good for take-off.
Thank you, Captain. Maybe next time you could leave out the insider details and just say, “It’s all fixed, now.”
And once again we were de-iced, and once again we began the roll to take off. And this time we did.
My stomach stayed in my throat the entire flight back, every odd noise seeming to signal the beginning of the end, every lurch seeming to herald the end, in fact.
We landed without incident an hour later. My bag beat me to the baggage claim area.
I worked my last day at this restaurant’s location, and I answered everyone’s same question, “How was your weekend?” with the same answer, “Good, because my plane didn’t crash, because it didn’t take off the first time. You know, we got a do-over.”
And I laughed as I said it.
But I know it was the angels. Their wings.
I’ll get on a plane again–sooner rather than later. And I’ll momentarily ponder death again, as always.
As for trips to Ohio, the last two have had their share of peculiar happenings, yes?
And the angels? I am keeping them right in my back pocket, for as long as they’d like to stay.